What's next? `Toddler Empire'?

September 19, 2007|By KEVIN COWHERD

Let me get this straight: CBS launches a new reality series that plops 40 kids between the ages of 8 and 15 in a New Mexico "ghost town" for 40 days with no adult supervision - and some people have a problem with this?

Just because the kids put in longer hours (the filming goes on 14 hours a day, seven days a week) than a factory worker in Singapore, and one got burned in a cooking accident, and a few others accidentally drank bleach?

And because the parents reportedly had to sign waivers saying they wouldn't have any contact with their kids during filming, and wouldn't sue if their little dears were hurt or freaked out from the stress or died or became pregnant or contracted a sexually transmitted disease?

C'mon, people! Aren't we being a little overprotective here?

Anyway, the controversial new show is called Kid Nation, and it debuts tonight at 8. Imagine Lord of the Flies-meets-Deadwood, and you have some sense of what we're dealing with here.

The premise is this, says the show's Web site: "40 children, 40 days, no adults - eager to prove they can build a better world for tomorrow ... "

Ohhh-kay.

"They will confront grown-up issues while coping with the classic childhood emotions of homesickness, peer pressure and the urge to break every rule," the site goes on to say.

Sounds more like freshman year in college. But what do I know?

In any event, the youngsters on Kid Nation will be building their new pioneer society in the "deserted" mining town of Bonanza City, which is actually a movie set in the New Mexico desert and probably has a Pizza Hut next door and an Old Navy down the street.

Part of the controversy surrounding the show has to do with child-labor laws that might have been violated - some do-gooders apparently object to kids as young as fourth grade putting in 14-hour days shooting a TV program.

Nevertheless, the kids will be doing chores (cooking, tending to livestock, emptying latrines), starting businesses, electing a town council and doing all the other things kids love to do after their parents sign liability waivers and they're bused into the middle of nowhere and the cameras start to roll.

CBS has been heavily promoting the new series with edgy commercials that highlight the town's isolation: tumbleweeds blowing in the wind, abandoned saloon doors creaking, rattlesnakes hissing in the dusty streets.

Yep, sounds like a great place to leave the kids for a month or so.

(Sneakers? Check. Backpack? Check. One hundred milliliters of anti-snake venom? Check.)

And that business about no adults being present as the kids build their brave new world is a stretch, too.

As with all these so-called reality shows, the cameras are recording the kids' every move - cameras operated, presumably, by adults.

According to reports, there were also doctors and emergency medical technicians standing by in case of injury.

But apparently none of the docs or EMTs were around to tell one girl not to get too close to the cooking pot because she could get splattered with hot grease.

And I guess none of the cameramen felt obliged to tell the kids that it's generally considered a bad idea to drink bleach, on account of the horrible burning sensation and seared esophageal tissue that results.

Anyway, here's another nice touch about Kid Nation: Each episode ends with a meeting in which the kids on the town council award one of their fellow kids a gold star worth $20,000.

Great.

I guess it's never too early to expose kids to blinding materialism, self-promotion, back-stabbing, petty jealousies in a group dynamic, the need to form alliances with those you detest in furtherance of a financial goal, etc.

Twenty grand - that'll buy a few gumballs down at the general store, won't it?

But should young kids really have a chance to win that kind of loot?

Wouldn't that tend to make them a little jaded?

You know how kids used to say: "I went to summer camp, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt?"

By the time this series ends, I can envision the little monsters saying: "I went on Kids Nation, and all I got was this stupid gold star worth 20 G's."

Won't that make their parents proud?

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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